The Netbook and why it is not a UMPC but the greatest change in computing in a decade.
I have had a genuinely crazy amount of discussion over the last 24 hours with loads of emails, twitters and blogs about Netbooks. It seems it really is the hot potato of the moment. I even had a tweet from Sascha Pallenberg today which was great. If you dont know who this guy is he is recognised in the industry as the authority on Netbooks. I picked up his story line in a Robert Scoble interview around the time of CES in Las Vegas. Sascha wrote a tweet today which said thx mike ;). Great article and spot on! I wish VIA would come out with something better then VX800. It would help a lot.
I have had some great responses from a number of people across the country and worldwide but wanted to focus my blog post for the day on one particular comment from Ian Guest of Sheffield. I really appreciate the time he has taken to write a very detailed comment and wanted to respond with some of my views. In essence Ian questions the way people are starting to see netbooks as laptop replacements and instead refers to them as UMPCs. Have a look at Ian’s very robust view here.
This comment really provoked me to think through my own view on netbooks and what they actually are as I was going through my day. It made me realise that I actually have some very strongly held views which differ from Ian’s view above. I agree that when the original 4inch screen Asus eee pc arrived on the market it was indeed a UMPC and changed everybody’s view on devices. However the argument starts to fall down as you look at where the market has developed to, is going now and where it will end up.
In the last year we have seen the movement towards 7, 8, 9 and then 10 inch machines. Asus predict that 95% of their sales of netbooks will be 10 inch machines with the other 5% coming from a niche industry using 7 inch machines. In effect some experts think Asus will leave the market in 8 and 9 inch netbooks. Why has this happened? My view is that people like the idea of very small machines but the reality of their experience has led to them wanting ‘something a little bigger’ as it would be ‘the perfect size’. As companies have responded sales have moved to the larger netbooks and the market has changed. The customer wants the good of netbooks (light and cheap) but in a bigger size. What I am therefore saying is I think it is no longer possible to describe the netbook as a UMPC. Check out this view from Michael Kwan on how we define a netbook for more.
Ian’s other major comment is that a netbook isn’t intended to replace a standard laptop. My own view is netbooks were always going to evolve upwards towards a size and power where they would fully replace laptops. Although this wasn’t seen in the market it was an inevitable driving force for a number of reasons. If you think about it from these questions it may help to see why this was inevitable. Who wouldn’t want a primary machine which costs half the price of their current one if it could be powerful enough to do what most of us do- low power tasks.Who wouldn’t want a very light primary machine which is half the weight of their current brick if one existed? Who wouldn’t want a small device which could more easily fit into a casual bag if the screen was big enough to browse the web for long periods.
When you frame the debate like this my own view is the netbook will be the most significant change in computing in the last decade. I believe this because:
- The ferocity of the competition will continue to drive price down below $200 for a good spec machine.
- The demand from customers will drive size up to 12/13 inches making them small versions of laptops.
- As the market saturates netbook makers will be forced to compete on specification as all room for cutting margins disappears.
The end product of all this will be 90% of current computer users moving away from laptops and desktops and having a netbook as a primary machine. It will of course not happen overnight but we will see this in the next 3 years. What the market is really looking for is not the gimmick that is a UMPC but their current laptops with all the power and functionality at half the weight and cost.